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New Study Links Fibromyalgia to Reduced Brain Dopamine

ORANGE, Calif -- 4 January 2007 -- The National Fibromyalgia Association today announced that a new study published in the January issue of The Journal of Pain provides new scientific evidence demonstrating for the first time that there is a fundamental difference between the brains of fibromyalgia patients and healthy individuals not afflicted with the disorder.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Patrick Wood, is a nationally recognized researcher and authority on the cause and treatment of fibromyalgia. This groundbreaking study supports Dr Wood’s “Dopamine Theory of Fibromyalgia,” which proposes that people with fibromyalgia produce less dopamine—a natural chemical in the body that functions as a neurotransmitter—in the very areas of the brain where dopamine is needed to process painful bodily sensations.

The reduction in the activity of dopamine neurons, believed to result from a combination of environmental factors, including chronic stress, as well as genetic factors, serves as the strongest evidence yet that dopamine-related issues may be the root cause of fibromyalgia.

“This study provides a whole new perspective on the pathology of fibromyalgia symptoms,” says Wood.

The research study used positron emission tomography (PET) to compare the capacity of fibromyalgia patients to synthesize brain dopamine in comparison with healthy controls. A total of seven female fibromyalgia patients and eight healthy controls were recruited for the study at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center, where Dr. Wood serves as assistant professor and directs both the Fibromyalgia Research Program and the Fibromyalgia Care Clinic. The results of the study demonstrate that patients with fibromyalgia have significantly reduced dopamine synthesis in multiple brain regions.

“It’s all in your head!”

For years, people with fibromyalgia have been told that their illness and symptoms were imaginary, or “all in their heads!” Indeed, fibromyalgia has divided the medical community on the subject of its legitimacy due in large part to the lack of a known cause or genetic markers,.

According to the National Fibromyalgia Association, an estimated 10 million Americans are affected by the disorder. Genetic factors and exposure to chronic stress have been increasingly suspected as key factors associated with fibromyalgia. Treatment typically focuses on addressing fibromyalgia symptoms, which include widespread pain, fatigue and sleep disturbance.

“One of the reasons fibromyalgia is considered so controversial is because we simply don’t know the cause,” explained Dr. Wood. “Our treatment of the symptoms has been sort of a ‘shot in the dark’ because we don’t really understand what it is we are treating.” However, based in the results of this study, there is reason to bring more emphasis on those treatments that may affect brain dopamine activity. “In effect,” Wood said, “we may begin to treat the source of the disorder, and not just its symptoms.”

“Fibromyalgia: Show Me Where It Hurts”

Dr. Wood’s research involving the Dopamine Theory of Fibromyalgia is featured in a recently released film entitled “Fibromyalgia: Show Me Where It Hurts,” which premiered at the National Fibromyalgia Association's 2006 National Patient Conference in March.

A trailer of the film can be viewed on the National Fibromyalgia Association’s website: www.FMaware.org.

In light of the latest results and the small initial sample size, Dr. Wood and the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) are urging further studies to determine the extent to which the lack of dopamine might be associated with the pain and other symptoms that characterize fibromyalgia.

"Further research on Dr. Wood’s Dopamine Theory could help answer questions that could directly benefit people with fibromyalgia,” said Lynne Matallana, founder and president of the National Fibromyalgia Association, the largest nonprofit association serving people with fibromyalgia and other chronic pain illnesses. Matallana, who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 1995, appears in “Fibromyalgia: Show Me Where It Hurts.”

For the complete text of the study, visit: http://journals.elsevierhealth.com/periodicals/yjpai/current.

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